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You may know that I have been seeking to increase shelter capacity for several years now, with a specific focus on unsheltered families with children beginning in 2011. You can read more about those past efforts here.
As a part of this year’s budget process, the Council voted Monday to fund new shelter capacity for unsheltered families w/kids sleeping in places unfit for human habitation. In past years, the Council has significantly and generously increased funding to shorten the several months long waiting lists for programs that seek to permanently house these families, but they have not supported new shelter capacity for families with children sleeping outside. Yet we only have 220 shelter beds for families with children in all of King County.
This has been the prevailing position because Seattle is one member of a regional plan to end homelessness, the Committee to End Homelessness. All of the partners of that plan, King County cities, funders, and providers have all agreed that new dollars are best spent on permanent housing, not to increase shelter. I and many in the advocacy community have taken the position that the fact that there are people living outside constitutes a public safety emergency, that should not be viewed through the lens of “solving homelessness.” We should tend to the immediate emergency survival and safety needs of people living outside, particularly of children. We agree that shelter isn’t a good place for children to live; but isn’t living outside, in an abandoned building, or a car far worse? Though the list is currently being updated, according to the King County Family Housing Connection database administrator, in King County there are a reported 243 families with children living in places unfit for habitation.
This year’s budget action is very good news. This change here at the City Council (and hopefully at City Councils in Kent, Bellevue, and all of the King County cities) was made more possible this year than in past years by this new initative, a Crisis Response Initiative, being discussed by the Committee to End Homelessness. I am a Governing Board member of CEH. I praise CEH for all that it has accomplished.
- Local prevention programs helped over 5,000 people to avoid homelessness through emergency assistance.
- More than 4,000 individuals were able to leave homelessness according to the 2011 Annual Report
- A total of 5,046 new units of homeless housing has been created by the partners of the Committee to End Homelessness
At this morning’s meeting of the Governing Board of CEH, during the discussion of the proposed Crisis Response Initiative, I asked that the Governing Board take three specific actions:
1. Identify the Crisis Response Initiative as an investment priority
2. Set targets for for this initiative
3. Ask the Implementation Workgroup to consider the following strategies:
a. In order to leverage the new investments in Seattle family shelter as announced above, work towards additional basic emergency shelter services for up to 30 families in cities in King County and outside Seattle.
b. Leverage new investments in Seattle to expand the Road to Housing Program (previously the Safe Parking Program) and expand in more King County jurisdictions
c. Review non-traditional shelter strategies as a way to more quickly address the immediate emergency survival and safety needs of people living outside.
d. Include an increased representation of homeless people at the table in our shared efforts to implement this Crisis Response Initiative.